I was taught to draw and paint at the Ruskin Schools in Oxford during the late seventies when it was still fashionable, just, to teach the traditions of perspective, composition and colour theory. There were also tutors teaching time based ideas and I realise in retrospect that I was on the cusp of a big revolution in the way we think about and make art. Through the eighties and nineties I was often dismayed to pick up yet another article that proclaimed that painting was dead, but it has often been the way that each new artistic movement dismisses what went before in its attempt to establish a new order; itís a relief to see that painting is once again back on the agenda. It has always been significant and meaningful from the cave paintings at Lascaux right through to the present day; more recently contemporary practices like photography and digital media have both liberated and reinvigorated the medium. I am happy that I have this new technology in my toolbox just as I am glad that the understanding of perspective, composition and colour are so deeply ingrained that when working I barely have to worry about them.
Initially considering landscape one tends to think of something extensive and solid, the sheer mass and bulk of the mountains, the length and breadth of straths and glens, the rocks and plants, even the myriad of small details within them, all have physical substance. But often it is that shaft of light on a distant hill, the shimmer of reflections across water or the wind brushing the long grasses like an animalís fur that enlivens the scene. At various times of day and at certain times of year the Highland landscape glows with light almost as if it is illuminated from within, to capture this is to grasp the kinetic energy that resonates through the landscape. When the skeletal structure has been caught the air within it can be animated, the moving wind is like breath that brings life to the body and the water that flows through it, across it, falls on it from the sky and fills the lochs and rivers is the life blood that nourishes all.
To put movement in a painting that is a fixed, static object would seem to be a contradiction, but those tutors who taught us time based ideas at the Ruskin had some helpful suggestions. Life drawing classes were not about a model holding a single pose all day, we were asked to draw Indian dancers who whirled around the room to discordant music, we learned about negative space, how the things that you didnít draw were as important as those you did and how a vacuum can suggest the presence of something that has recently moved. Primary colour theory teaches that complimentary colours in close proximity vibrate with each other, just as tonal colour recession can help with the illusion of depth so a secondary and primary colour placed together will flicker and draw our gaze from one part of a picture to another.
It has always been part of my working practise to include chance in the painting process, striving to find new ways of applying paint, creating surface and texture and developing techniques is challenging and stimulating, (and often good fun!); mark making discovered in this experimental way can be refined and incorporated into a constantly evolving language that I use alongside the careful observation and recording of Nature championed by John Ruskin in his own work. Sometimes to get at what you want it is necessary to approach it obliquely, I found that I could paint the less tangible elements, the water, the wind and the light and so suggest the permanence of an ancient land constantly crossed with changing weather. The wind is seldom quiet here and as it batters against the land it alters the outlines of trees and shorelines; often it carries water with it distorting distance, covering or revealing first one hillside then another, the light glows through it sparkling from the wet rocks and lochans that reflect the ever-moving sky. Paint can be about many things and the way that it describes them, an abstract mark can become representational through its context within the larger picture, or it can stand alone as a beautiful detail. It can become the rushing water of a river in spate, a cumulus cloud blown across a stormy sky, a tower of ice and rock or a vertiginous space ready for the unwary to tumble in to. Thatís what I love about it and all its endless surprises, that magic, because in the end it is only paint, pigment squeezed from a tube that with a little imagination can represent anything in the world.
James Hawkins February 2007